Chapter 3, “Literature Review,” of Effective Church Operational Systems is nearly 60 pages long. There is much in it that could not be reviewed in a few blog posts. However, overall it explains the leadership philosophy behind the plan to transform All Saints Parish.
Specifically targeted is the transformation of individuals in leadership positions. The chapter opens thus, “It is good that the Christian Church wants to be successful—God wants the Church to succeed. However, growth doesn’t necessarily mean that what is happening is good…Therefore, from a Christian perspective, growth alone is not the goal; creating healthy Christian communities that bring individuals to transformative Christian maturity is. It is not just about getting them “saved,” (getting them through the door—salvation), but also about making disciples who grow in holiness—sanctification.” (Emphasis added.) Immediately following is the goal of bringing individuals to a “transformative Christian maturity” of which holiness is a hallmark.
The inference is that once a Christian professes Christ he is forever saved and will automatically enter heaven upon his earthly death. This is the salvation doctrine of sola fide –faith alone (see here, here, and here). This does not seem to be a Catholic understanding of salvation.
Later in the chapter, Deacon Dean writes, “Fear of the implications that our mental models may be wrong can seriously close the mind of a Christian leader. For example, it was not long ago when large segments of Protestants and Catholics wrote each other off as condemned. To consider the alternative may challenge the very nature of how we understand salvation itself.” (Emphasis added.) It must be hoped that it is a Catholic understanding.
It is not clear from the text what “transformative Christian maturity” looks like. The chapter then moves to “Connecting with God,” “Connecting with each other,” and “Leadership that makes it all happen” as the three points of church growth and development. These are framed through the church’s purpose (“What are leaders trying to accomplish?” and “What is the vision and what is the mission?”) and systems thinking, a more business-like term for holistic theories of organization.
Pastor and author Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church, is used to illustrate certain principles guiding the changes at All Saints Parish. (On a side note, Rick Warren has caused a great deal of controversy within his own Christian faith tradition for promoting syncretism. See here and here for information on syncretism.)
According to Warren, there are seven influences in a congregation that leads to failure: Tradition, Personality, Finances, Programs, Buildings, Event, and Seekers.
Tradition is described negatively, as ‘perpetuating the past’ and ‘stagnation’. Buildings are understood to be standing in the way of progress: “Maintaining or building buildings is most important, often draining real ministry.” (Emphasis added.)
This points to one of three things: either the lack of a Catholic understanding of Tradition (and tradition), a rejection of them, or the thesis was aimed at an audience with little interest or belief in Catholic practices. What has always been of utmost importance to the Catholic faith—the worship of God through the Mass and the Holy Eucharist—is not addressed.
Next, Warren elucidates five purposes, each with eight components. The overriding emphasis is an inward one: My Witness, My Worship, My Relationships, My Walk, My Work. The ‘church’ provides such things as: A focus for living, a force for living, a family for living, a foundation for living, and a function for living. Nowhere are the sacraments mentioned.
Then the systems approach is again introduced, which is basically looking at an organization as a body, and putting the spotlight on each part and how it relates to the whole. If something is out of whack, systems thinking “looks at the patterns of behavior within the organization that may be impacting the behavioral dynamics and works to deal with these dysfunctional patterns.”
This type of diagnosing of an issue is very much in line with modern psychological methods. In fact, Deacon Dean states, “Within congregations, systemic thinking recognizes that managing the health (wholeness) of a congregation means managing the whole system of the congregation, especially the emotional systems.” He goes on to say, “Why has attendance dropped dramatically in Catholic churches over the past fifty years? Linear thinking might grasp at straws such as the implementation of Vatican II or the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. Either answer would be far too simplistic.” (Emphasis added.)
Systems thinking we are told, is able to see the issues from a far more intricate perspective, one that gets down to deeper levels to describe, diagnose, and then transform.
What is emerging here is a philosophy that looks upon individuals as parts of a system of being. Individual assumptions about right and wrong that drive the behavior of people are seen to be good as long as they are aligned with how the system as a whole thinks and acts. Those who cannot or will not dispose of their assumptions are seen to be a diseased element within the system. They either must transform their assumptions or be eliminated for the health of the system. Think Star Trek: The Borg.
This explains why there is such an emphasis on personal transformation. In order for a plan of ‘health’ to be implemented within an organizational system, the leadership must first gain personal mastery of the plan to be implemented, must fully agree with and integrate that plan into their belief system, and then initiate the rest of the organization’s individuals into the (belief) system. (Continued below.)